Love in Anxious Times

I asked a friend if she would help me. She wasn’t willing to do it. I loved her anyway.

By Dulce Zamora

There’s a lot not to love these days. There are super-viruses, catastrophic fires, calamitous floods, treacherous politics, and a million other scary, tragic, or annoying things swirling around in our daily lives. It’s enough to make us want to stay in bed, unplug, drink that extra serving of beer, wine, or margarita (whatever you fancy), or go through a whole box of toffee chocolate macadamias. Not that I would know. 😝

Here in Singapore, almost everyone I’ve encountered lately has been on edge. As of this writing, there are 67 cases of COVID-19 in the country. Although there are zero deaths and 17 of those patients have already been discharged with good health, people are still spooked. I’ve talked to people who haven’t left the house all week, except to make a quick run to the store in order to get something they can’t get online. Some won’t go outside because they don’t want to go through their stash of masks (which are sold out in stores everywhere), even though officials urge mask-wearing only when unwell. Another person said she washes her hands at least three times after venturing outside.

I had a scare, too, this week. Someone in my gym had been quarantined, because she sat in a taxi that had had an infected person inside. I was informed that the quarantined woman and I had been at the gym around at the same time last week. She took an outdoor class while I used the equipment inside. I didn’t personally know this woman so I did not know if we had any contact. (Did we use the same bathroom stall? Did we sit at the same place in the cafe next door? Did we cross paths at all?) I was pretty sure my risk was low because I had been careful about washing my hands and not touching my face in public. Nonetheless, it got me thinking: What would happen if I got the virus?

I realized I’m not as concerned about the virus as much as I am with being hospitalized if I was infected. Based on what we know, the virus is contagious but not as lethal as SARS or MERS, the other recent pandemics. However, if my husband, Noel, and I became ill and were placed in a hospital ward, what would happen to our two children? Assuming the girls were well and had passed their 14-day quarantine period, who would take care of them?

In ordinary times, expats would often rely on each other for support, because we know what it’s like to be away from our usual support groups.

“Hi, nice to meet you. Can you be an emergency contact for my kid?” is a running joke among expats that contains both humor and truth. My children go to an international school, and the school nurse once told me that there are many students who do not have people to call if their parents or guardians can’t be reached. We’ve been lucky in that we’d always had friends who’d been willing to step up in urgent situations. However, expat families are similar to military ones in that we are generally transient. We’ve had to say goodbye many, many times to trusted friends who became more like family.

Right now, my family and I are in the process of rebuilding our ever-changing community. Who would be able to help us this time? Who would be willing to stay with our girls or house them in case Noel and I get sick and the girls remain healthy? Who could realistically do this? We thought that we would ask someone in the neighborhood so transport to school wouldn’t be an issue.

Noel and I decided to reach out to friends to find out. I started with a neighbor, a fellow expat who also had a child in our school. I texted her to see if she would like to meet to figure out if we could possibly help each other in case of an emergency related to COVID-19.

“It seems that the government has specific quarantine procedures in place for people exposed to the infected people,” my neighbor wrote. ” I don’t think individuals exposed to infected persons would generally be allowed to live with other people as that spreads the risk and goes against the objective of containment. Perhaps [the government] has some guidelines in place when it comes to quarantined minors.”

“Also, breaking quarantine procedures is sanctionable by the government as reported in the news,” she added.

She suggested I reach out to the Ministry of Health for guidance on what do do with at-risk children.

My friends words sounded sensible, yet my face felt hot — not because of fever, but because I felt slighted and dismayed. Did she just accuse me of trying to subvert the law? Did she honestly think I would put her and her family at risk of getting the virus? It sounded like she wasn’t willing to help. I worried: Will no one step up to take care of my children because they’re worried about contracting the virus?

I took a deep breath and tried to set things straight. I texted her again.

“I know you don’t know me that well,” I said. “But I would never think about breaking the law. I always try to do what is right. Hope I did not put you in an uncomfortable position… These are simply emergency plans. Just exploring what’s possible. Building community. You don’t have to worry about meeting up. We don’t have to meet up now. You can say ‘No.'”

I also assured her that I would never do anything to put her and her family at risk.

“We share the same concerns and worries amidst this uncertainty,” she wrote. “Personally, I have a heightened need to know more and to have some clarity of what implications or repercussions could follow any course of action, which led me to bring up all the points I raised. I do hope I did not give you the impression of doubting you. If I did, I’m sorry for that.”

My neighbor and I decided to have coffee after this whole craziness was over.

To tell you the truth, I was mad at first. How could she think I would try to do something illegal or just plain dumb like subject her and her family to the virus? If we became sick, would my family and I be treated like we had leprosy? Who would take care of my kids if my husband and I were sick in the hospital?

I’ve had a chance to sleep on it, and I’m not angry at my neighbor anymore. She was just being cautious, and seeking clarification. She admitted to me that she hadn’t left the house at all since Chinese New Year, except to run a quick errand. It was clear that she was afraid. We all are.

So, I decided to give her some love. Love in the form of understanding. I didn’t want to hold on to my anger, because that would hurt me, too. This may sound very airy-fairy carefree, but letting go is actually much harder to do, harder than holding on to a sense of righteousness. Anger is heavy and all-consuming of energy. I didn’t want that.

Noel was able to find a friend who would help our girls fly back to the U.S. if it came to that. And I have other friends I still plan to ask for local support in other ways.

My brother works in emergency services. Every Thanksgiving, he always held an emergency preparedness workshop for the family, urging us to have plans, contacts, and supplies in place. He would be very proud of us for doing the hard and sometimes awkward thing of preparing for the worst.

These are uncertain times. I’m trying to douse the flames of chaos with love. Love for my neighbor. Love for my family. Love for me. As difficult as it is, this all feels much more meaningful than a Hallmark Valentine’s Day card.

And, by the way, that woman at the gym who was quarantined… Today was her last day in isolation, and I’m happy to report that she’s healthy with no signs of COVID-19. That means I’m in the clear, too. Yay! I consider this an extra reason to celebrate. But maybe I’ll hold off on the chocolate for now. I think I’ve had my fill for the day. ☺️

© 2020 Windswept Wildflower

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